Volume > Issue > Nazarenes under the Scimitar

Nazarenes under the Scimitar

ISLAMIC PERSECUTION OF CHRISTIANS: A BRIEF HISTORY

By Ronald J. Rychlak | January-February 2019
Ronald J. Rychlak is the Jamie P. Whitten Chair in Law and Government at the University of Mississippi. He is the author of several books, including Hitler, the War, and the Pope and Disinformation (co-authored with Ion Mihai Pacepa). This article draws on (and citations can be found in) Robert Fastiggi’s chapter in the book The Persecution and Genocide of Christians in the Middle East, edited by Rychlak and Jane Adolphe.

Jesus warned His disciples: “They will hand you over to persecution, and they will kill you. You will be hated by all nations because of my name” (Mt. 24:9). Such treatment was a reality for the early followers of Christ. During the first four centuries of the Christian era, both the Roman Empire and the Persian Empire persecuted Christians. With the conversion of Constantine around the year 400, Christian persecution at the hands of the Romans largely ended. Unfortunately, persecution continues even today. This is, and long has been, particularly true in Islamic nations in the Middle East.

The Post-Classical Era

Muhammad was born in the year 570. When he was about 25 he entered into the service of a wealthy widow named Khadijah, whom he eventually married. According to Islamic tradition, Muhammad received revelations through the angel Gabriel over a period of approximately 22 years, beginning in 610, when Muhammad was 40, and continuing until 632, the year he died. These revelations became the content of the Qur’an, the sacred book of Islam.

Within 100 years after Muhammad’s death, Islamic rule had spread across the Middle East, Africa, and Spain. Much of this growth came though military conquest. This was not unusual at the time. “Spreading the faith by the sword” was part of the Islamic modus operandi from the beginning.

In most cases, those who were conquered were not required to convert to Islam at the pain of death. Defeated populations that chose not to convert were required to pay the jizya, or poll tax, and live as dhimmis, non-Muslims who were protected by the state but were denied many political rights. The financial strain of the tax, plus second- (or third-) class civil status for entire families, convinced many of the conquered to convert to Islam.

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